St. James Episcopal Day School

Community Blog

Can Exercise Make You Smarter?

Can Exercise Make You Smarter?

Mar 07, 2017

Carrie Chandler

Carrie Chandler

Physical Education


"Exercise is like fertilizer for the brain… it’s like Miracle Grow!" - John Ratey

Being physically active is good for our mind and body. This is a well proven fact. Endorphins and other hormones released while we move make us feel less stress, more energetic, and happier overall. Increasing our fitness level also makes our skin and hair healthier, muscles and bones stronger, and increases our self-confidence and self-esteem. But did you know that physical exericse actually makes us smarter too?

According to John Ratey, a neuropsychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and author of the best-selling book, Spark, fitness has a long-term influence on a wide range of cognitive abilities.

“The brain relies on a steady supply of nutrients and oxygen through an intricate network of capillaries. Physical activity can encourage the construction of these supply lines, and it can also ease their maintenance. Exercise also has been found to spur the release of such neurotransmitters as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, which help regulate signalling in the brain.”

In fact, according to Ratey, physical exercise is like “Miracle-Gro for your brain,” because it creates an environment where neurons can flourish, and promotes the formation of new connections between cells. In short, movement is an important factor in the learning process.

The teachers at St. James know all about the benefits of physical activity on congnitive function. “Brain Breaks” (or boosts) are used regularly in the classroom throughout the day. If your children come early to school, they can also engage in unstructured physical play on the playground where jumprope, kickball, and soccer are regularly played. Such activities increase their heartrate over an extended period of time and have a strong effect on academic achievement, concentration, and improved math, reading, and writing scores. In P.E., instead of playing one big game with only one ball and many players waiting for a turn, we play small-sided games where everyone must actively participate for the team to succeed.

Results from a study in Naperville, Illinois, found that students who had physical education for an hour or two before a difficult class, regularly out performed other students in the class who had physical education afterward.  

But while physical activity is built into your child’s school day, how active are they at home? 

  • Help your child develop good physical activity habits at an early age by setting a good example yourself.
  • Limit the amount of television, movies, videos and computer activities to less than two hours a day. Fill the rest of your family’s leisure time with physical activity.
  • Plan family outings and vacations that involve vigorous activities, such as hiking, bicycling, skiing, and swimming.
  • Give your child(ren) some household chores that require physical exertion, keeping in mind their strength, coordination and maturity. Mowing lawns, raking leaves, sweeping floors and taking out the garbage not only teaches responsibility but can be good exercise.
  • Observe which sports and activities appeal to your child(ren). Some children thrive on team sports; others enjoy individual activities. Some activities, like tennis and swimming, can be enjoyed for a lifetime and are much easier to learn when they are young.  
  • If it’s safe to walk or bike rather than drive, do it! Use stairs instead of elevators and escalators. Increase the distances you and your family walk. 

Finally, consider making exercise a daily part of your child’s homework routine. Help them improve their learning potential. It is well worth the time not studying to play a quick game of catch or take a walk around the block to reactivate the brain cells. It might even prove to be a fun time to test spelling words, capitols and states, or math facts.

Just remember, the same principle that applies to young people is true for the older population as well! Stay fit, stay happy, stay smart.

- Carrie Chandler, P.E. Teacher